With the March issue heading to the printers, I’ve started working on my next Market Trends feature that seeks to answer crucial questions about the sterndrive category: are sales ever going reach their previous heights? And if not, is that a problem for the marine industry?
A lot has happened since the early 2000s in the marine market, but one of the most significant shifts is the flip-flop in popularity between outboards and sterndrives. The industry has also born witness to the dramatic rise of pontoons, as they’ve quite swiftly ditched their dowdy image and become fashionable. Then you’ve got frightening increase in cost for most fiberglass boats to contend with, which undoubtedly has to be a factor for people that can’t afford to drop $80,000+ for their weekend recreation.
As I’m learning, the oft-mentioned “decline of sterndrives” may not be so simple, as there are real sales differences in the category depending on size. Larger sterndrives are doing well, I’m told, while it’s the lower end of the market that’s struggled to gain traction.
I am gathering industry data for my story, as well as interviewing OEM heavy-hitters in the sterndrive category for their thoughts on where these trends are leading. Aside from the expected corporate optimism, I’m hoping my sources open up and speak frankly about the category’s present and future, as well as sterndrive segment’s prospects going forward.
High-tech and high-powered outboards engines have changed the industry, and consumers in specific categories seem to be showing a preference for independent propulsion. The Baby Boomers are retiring and usage surveys that show most boaters spending more time docked — two big factors feeding the movement toward pontoons.
So is the sterndrive runabout category as unhealthy as it seems, or is it poised to roar back? The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Some industry officials suggest we’re seeing a generational shift in boaters that’s here to stay, while others disagree. Now it’s time to see what the real sterndrive experts have to say — stay tuned.